Year 2011 was special for me, the birder.
2011 saw me metamorphose from an amateur reclusive solitary birder to an amateur birder actively participative in community birding. I joined Delhibird group way back in 2006 but of all these years, 2011 has been my most active year and I hope it paves the way for how I lead remainder of my lifetime - "Appreciative of Nature and In Love with Birds".
To mark a befitting end to 2011, I set off on a short 2 day birding trip to Dehradun with Nitu, Pankaj and Srinivas. We stayed at Bikram Grewal's newly opened Boutique Resort - Walterre. I have to still figure out what Walterre means, because I am sure it does something and that something is not that I can easily know because Google doesn't throw it in the first page of search results. But even if Bikram invented that word out of nowhere, I can tell you it'll come to be known for "A Heritage property nestled in deep foliage of Himalayan foothills, restored to it's original glory of Victorian age, replete with original lithographs and antique furniture and masterpieces collected from all over the world giving a modern day traveller an experience of a rich bygone era of finer tastes and deep values".
Now if that doesn't tell you anything, go visit it. It's worth every lazy moment you spend there.
Day 1 - Within the City of Dehradun. In and around Walterre.
Walterre is on the road to Shigalli (pronounced locally as Shin-Gaali) International School. The road to Shigalli is beautiful and good for birding on either sides. Then there's one cheat path from the back of the resort which leads directly to Tauns river. That's a very good trek too. We started day with a quick Pre-Breakfast survey of the resort lawns and beautiful tress lining it and were happy to spot morning hill beauties like Crimson Sunbirds in Eclipse Plumage, Green-tailed Sunbird, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, flock of Red-Billed Lieothrix amongst others. Thereafter, we decided to halt and have Breakfast before starting all over again. Ideally English Breakfast laid out on the beautiful Hill side Porch would make normal people sit up and relax but not the birders. So we kept munching on omelettes and Salamis while watching a Blue Rock Thrush and Blue-throated Barbet and few Swallows and Crag martins flying overhead. Martins were later identified as Eurasian Craig Martins. Another brown-headed Barbet peeping through trees was debated long enough if it was Lineated. But finally, debate settled at Brown-headed. The most interesting beauty was an Asian Barred Owlet which sat dozing on the tree in front of us providing ample photo ops at eye-level.
After the breakfast, we were joined by Sanjay Sondhi and Anchal and now under their well honed Doon instincts, went to check out River area on the back. This stretch gave some good birds and in abundance. Highlights were Pale-billed and Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Orange-bellied Leafbird, flock of Red-billed Lieothrix, Brown Dipper, Plumbeous and White-capped Water Redstarts, Crested Kingfisher, Jungle Prinia, Chestnut-bellied and Blue Rock Thrush, Rufous-chinned LT, Golden-Spectacled Warbler, Puff-throated Babbler, a Crested Serpent Eagle and Eurasian Crag Martins flying overhead.
Any other Laughing Thrush were conspicuous by their absence. Content, we returned to the Resort and decided to stick around the lawns for regular hill birds.
While we were cooling our heels, Nitu decided to survey the thickets within the resort lawns. She quickly spotted small brown thing sitting on a stone into far off thickets. Before we could all reach and have a good look, the brown thing had moved away skulking underneath. After a coordinated effort by all four to not so much as even blink for next 10 mins, Nepal Wren Babbler finally gave good views (as good as a skulker can) to all of us. This was my first Wren Babbler though some had seen Scaly-bellied Wren Babbler in the past and could make out differences in scales on underbelly much better.
Content with having spotted Nepal Wren Babbler, birder party decided to move onto the road, checking out bushes on either sides and we saw most regular ones including Himalayan Treepies, Black-chinned babblers, Lesser White-throat, Red-billed Lieothrix, Crimson and Green-taile Sunbird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker and a gorgeous lifer for all of us Fire-tailed Sunbird.
Clouds End is literally the end of Mussorie and can be reached via the Hathipaon road. The road is good and didn't seem very popular with tourists, meaning it was all pristine and untouched all around. Eurasian Sparrowhawk sunning itself was the first one to greet us and thereafter there wasn't any looking back. Great Barbet, Blue-capped Redstart, Dark-sided Flycatcher were the few others seen initially until we came across one mixed hunting party after another and feasted our eyes and cameras on Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Rufous Sibias, White-browed Shrike Babblers, Eurasian and Black-headed Jays, Long-tailed Minivets, Blue-throated Flycathcer. Further along towards Clouds End, a small meadow like area gave us good views of Grey-winged Blackbird at very close quarters along with flocks of Russet Sparrows, a Rock Bunting. Further along the road, the trees are taller and warbler activity was on a rise as was the Sun. Kalij Peasant flushed out inadvertently was a delight as was a beautiful Orange-flanked Bush Robin and Rufous-bellied Woodpecker.
Day 2 - Dehradun - Clouds End
At Clouds End, we stopped at a private resort for Tea and Maggi and spotted an Eagle (unIDed) along with Himalayan Griffons. A warbler possibly a Brook's Leaf was spotted by Nitu. At 2 Kms is the Banog Wildlife Sanctuary which we didn't visit for want of time and headed back to catch evening Shatabdi to be back in office on Monday.
Overall a trip I'll remember for the sheer abundant number of those birds that I had on my earlier trips had just had glimpsed. On the other hand we dipped on lot of common ones but in a span of 2 days, the trip was more than it's worth. Just the right way to end 2011 and look forward to 2012 for adding more such leisurely trips to my kitty.
Corrigenda : Walterre means "Good Land". Courtesy Bikram Grewal.
Indian Grey Hornbill
Asian-barred Owlet [L]
Blue Rock Pigeon
Crested Serpent Eagle
Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush
White-capped Water Redstart
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Bar-tailed Treecreeper [Could be Eurasian]
Eurasian Crag Martin
Golden-Spectacled Warbler [L]
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler
Nepal Wren Babbler [L]
Fire-tailed Sunbird [L]
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker [L]
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker ??
Dark-sided Flycatcher [L]
Blue-throated Flycatcher [L]
Orange-flanked Bush Robin
Brook's Leaf Warbler ??
White-browed Shrike Babbler
Complete List of Birds seen